As a film writer, I belonged to the first group. I couldn't escape KANK -- it was the conversation at every party I attended. It was the talk among the hundreds of desis and Americans and who acted as extras in the film. And then there were the stars -- from Shah Rukh Khan who visited Jackson Heights in the pouring rain; to Arjun Rampal, waiting to be picked up from the Radisson Hotel, as the star struck journalist in me watched him from across the street, under my umbrella, on another rainy day in the city.
Johar and his crew camped out in our city for a few months and so I began to believe that the film was a tribute to the desi New Yorkers and our adopted hometown. KANK was about our lives and it was our movie.
So I have a word of warning for the New Yorkers and other NRIs who still have not seen the movie -- the unlucky ones who did not purchase their tickets in advance, since most shows in the first weekend are nearly sold out.
KANK has nothing to do with New York. Yes, the film was shot here and there are some stunning scenes of Manhattan, our bridges, parks, rivers, train stations and especially the city's skyline. But KANK could easily be set in London, Sydney and definitely in Mumbai. Infidelity and adulterous behaviour -- the main theme of the film -- does not come naturally to desi New Yorkers.
SRK's character drinks Starbucks coffee and dates a married woman (played by Rani Mukerji) at the city's top cafes and restaurants. But he walks, talks, smiles, contorts his facial muscles -- especially his eyebrows and overacts like the SRK we know from every other film. He is a David Beckham like football star -- complete with a huge tattoo on his right arm; we play soccer here -- mostly in Little Leagues with young kids; and most Americans do not know anything about Posh Spice's husband or any other soccer player.
There is no New York in SRK or in just about any other character and actor in the film -- especially not in the over-the-top, loud character that Amitabh Bachchan plays with his gaudy clothes, glasses and dumb blonde girls -- who appear to be younger than his real-life children.
What KANK offers us is a three-and-a-half hour long, over-blown, candy-floss fantasy about the lives of the ultra rich and good looking Indians, who wear expensive clothes, live in beautifully furnished, stunning apartments and mansions, dance in crazy discotheques, walk in snow and rain, and cry a lot. You see, Johar's characters are meant to be sad people.
As the young filmmaker explained in the liner notes of the film's CD, which contains one uninspiring song after another, there are three types of married people in the world -- those who have an arranged marriage (and Johar displays his arrogance, ignorance, and lack of life experiences, by saying he just doesn't understand why people do that), those who marry for their parents, money or to play safe; and finally the fortunate ones who find their soul mates (such as the ones who populate Yash Chopra's romantic melodramas).
In stating these views about marriages, the 34-year-old Johar is trying to become the Ingmar Bergman, the Satyajit Ray, the Woody Allen and the Basu Bhattacharya -- all rolled into one -- of today's generation. But the filmmaker's observations about marriages are naive and superficial, at best.
Johar takes a very long time to tell his story, but he never can quite explain why SRK and Mukerji start an adulterous affair, while their respective spouses (Preity Zinta and Abhishek Bachchan) make clear attempts to work out their failing marriages. Except that -- amidst all the loud violin and piano pieces, playing the notes of the film's title song and Tumhi Dekho Naa, with the leaves blowing on the ground and rain drenching New York City's streets, Johar is trying to tell us that SRK and Mukerji are soul mates. And so it is fine if they will leave their heart-broken spouses.
This is a Bollywood film and true love has to finally overcome all odds -- especially the tears and the pain of those who suffer.
There is one glaring exception to this over-blown and long melodrama. Abhishek Bachchan is very good (I was going to say exceptional, but this year that word will be reserved only for Saif Ali Khan in Omkara) in the role of Rishi Talwar, a fun loving, child-like, party-planner/public relations guy, who enjoys his evenings out, dresses cool and deeply loves his wife (Mukerji). His character is well crafted and the actor, with his wicked smile, range of expressions and constantly shifting personalities, rises above the entire cast of the film -- including his father.
In watching Abhishek towards the end, in one of the few sensitive scenes in the film, as he visits his now ex-wife in Philadelphia, I began to believe that maybe Johar had finally understood the meaning of love.
But all of that was lost a few scenes later, with SRK and Mukerji shedding buckets of tears at Philadelphia's Penn Station. For soul mates they spent a lot of time crying in the film.